Using Speed as a Competitive Advantage

By Kate Lee

Speed can be not only a business’s biggest differentiator but also its biggest advantage. Effective leaders know this and have honed their ability to act quickly and to inspire others to do the same.

Speed can be a competitive advantage, but not if speed comes at the expense of the business. Leaders need to have the clarity and insights to make smart decisions fast, and not ill-considered decisions recklessly. Famed basketball coach John Wooden once said, “If you don’t have time to do it right, when will you have time to do it over?” There is a delicate balance to be struck between “getting it right” and “moving quickly.” There is no perfect formula for doing both, but effective leaders do this well by balancing both of these critical elements.

Leaders we work with often ask these questions:

  • How can I advance and leverage speed as a competency?
  • How can I accelerate our business – faster?
  • How can we move faster through a change or a transition?

Simultaneous = Speed

Our first response is that speed itself is not a competency; it is an output, a result of good execution, and its chance of being present increases greatly when organizations do four key things simultaneously:

  • lead change that delivers results
  • develop leaders at all levels
  • align teams around shared goals
  • energize people to make change happen

Doing these four things at the same time greatly increases the chances of accelerating change, moving at speed, and getting positive results.

Let’s look at the example of a real estate and financial services company. The company had grown largely via acquisitions to become a global enterprise with over $1 billion in annual revenues. Despite its strong brand and leadership position in the marketplace, the firm struggled to align its resources to drive organic growth. Different organizations operated almost wholly independently, and senior executives were pursuing different agendas for the company.

Working closely with the COO for the North America business, Brimstone took the organization’s top leaders through a Senior Team Alignment Process.  This exercise helped unify the group around a single strategic view of the business and its future. The team worked collaboratively to agree on a Strategic Business Framework that highlighted the key objectives and measures for the organization.

The process also identified the most important opportunities to pursue, and the critical issues that would stand in the way of progress.

The Senior Team then launched project teams to study the six most pressing issues and opportunities, selecting 48 high-performing, high-potential leaders to participate in a Performance Leadership Initiative. Working for 100 days on cross-functional teams, the teams developed recommendations for the leadership team to accept or decline. The recommendations had defined ROI and implementation plans.

The team also received coaching and mentoring on how to engage the organization successfully — by stakeholdering, influencing, listening, and synthesizing opinion. They gained trust as leaders to solve critical issues, got the support necessary for making success likely, and as a result, became better leaders while the organization got real results. At the end of the engagement, the company had world-class answers to their issues, and the knowledge, expertise, experience, and commitment “in-house” instead of having outsourced it all to a consulting firm.

The ideas that came out of the Performance Leadership initiative produced immediate results.

  • One team’s recommendations helped the company close over $35 million in new business. Another team’s plan saved the company almost $1 million annually in working capital costs.
  • A team focused on employee engagement made recommendations that resulted in the company earning a spot in Fortune’s 100 Best Companies to Work For.

Through the process, all project team members enhanced their skills and deepened their engagement while developing real expertise and long-lasting internal networks for sharing ideas and generating new business across the organization.

They also developed recommendations to address key issues and gained the organizational buy-in to execute real, measurable results that move the business. In 100 days.


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organizational alignmenttransformational change